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article imageLawmaker calls for federal probe of contaminated baby food

By Karen Graham     Oct 20, 2019 in Health
Senator Chuck Schumer is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to examine a report that found dozens of baby food products contaminated with lead and other toxic heavy metals.
Schumer was referencing a study released Thursday that was commissioned by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF). In the study, 168 baby foods were tested for the presence of toxic heavy metals.
The study found 95 percent of the food tested contained lead, arsenic, mercury or cadmium. It found one in four baby foods that were tested contained all four metals. Only nine of the 168 baby foods tested were not found to contain traces of any of the four metals.
"The report is very, very troubling,” Schumer said outside the infant-goods store BuyBuy Baby in Chelsea. “Now, we all know how bad lead can hurt a toddler, but when it’s a little baby it’s even worse. He added that consumers “rightfully expect those foods to be undeniably safe, appropriately regulated and nutritiously sustaining."
Baby food section at a market
Baby food section at a market
Executioner (CC0 1.0)
What’s in my Baby’s Food?
The highest-risk foods are fruit juices and rice-based products, including puff snacks and rice cereals. This is because rice is particularly effective at absorbing arsenic, a common pesticide, as it grows. Four of seven infant rice cereals tested contained inorganic arsenic - the more toxic form of the metal - exceeding the FDA's proposed limit of 100 parts per billion.
The foods tested spanned 61 brands and 13 types of food, including infant formula, teething biscuits, cereals, and fruit juices. They were primarily selected by parents who volunteered with HBBF's partner organizations. \
Lead was the biggest offender, showi9ng up in 94 percent of all the products tested, followed by arsenic and cadmium, showing up in approximately three-quarters of the baby foods tested. Mercury was found in about a third of the products.
Gerber Good Start Soy
Gerber Good Start Soy
Tucson Police Department
The problem was uncovered nearly a decade ago
The discovery of arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, and pesticides in baby foods, including infant formula is not a new problem. It has been festering for a number of years and has become worse in the past few years.
For example, in 2016, a nonprofit watchdog organization compiled a list of baby and toddler foods that are contaminated by harmful ingredients. The Clean Label Project’s list highlighted the products that meet or exceed standards established by its medical advisors based on independent lab analyses.
Eighty-one percent of the 628 tested products failed to meet the standards. Baby foods were tested for toxic and heavy metals – e.g., arsenic, lead, cadmium – pesticides, bisphenol A (BPA), antibiotics, food coloring and flavors, and other unwanted substances that do not appear on ingredient labels.
In 2017, the Environmental Defense Fund released an analysis of 11 years of federal data that showed detectable levels of lead in 20 percent of 2,164 baby food samples. The toxic metal was most commonly found in fruit juices such as grape and apple, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots, and cookies such as teething biscuits.
In 2018, Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to ensure the safety of consumer products sold in the U.S., sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, urging the agency to take steps to protect the public from potentially harmful contaminants in the food supply.
Consumer Reports was referencing a report published on Consumer Reports’ food safety team analyzed 50 nationally distributed foods made for babies and toddlers, including baby cereals, packaged fruits and vegetables, packaged entrées, and packaged snacks. They found:
● Every product had measurable levels of at least one of these heavy metals: cadmium,
lead, or inorganic arsenic.
● Around two-thirds (68%) had worrisome levels of at least one heavy metal.
● Among the 50 foods tested, 15 would pose potential health risks to a child regularly
eating just one serving or less per day.
● Snacks and products containing rice and/or sweet potatoes were particularly likely to
have high levels of heavy metals.
● Certified organic foods were as likely to contain heavy metals as conventional ones.
We should not be poisoning our children
All of the metals except mercury are known or probable human carcinogens. What is worse, though, is that the four metals are neurotoxic, posing serious threats to healthy childhood brain development.
"The heavy metals interfere with the way the brain is supposed to get wired," registered nurse Charlotte Brody, one of the authors of the report and the national director of the HBBF, told NBC News. "Everything we can do to drop the levels of these chemicals that kids are exposed to just gives them a better chance of learning."
"The FDA should be doing more," Brody said. "It's the FDA’s job to set rules that make food safe."
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